Whoever Partakes Of My Flesh
John 6:48-59 MKJV I am the Bread of life. (49) Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and died. (50) This is the Bread, which comes down from Heaven, so that a man may eat of it and not die. (51) I am the Living Bread, which came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he shall live forever. And truly the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (52) Then the Jews argued with one another, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (53) Then Jesus says to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves. (54) Whoever partakes of My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (55) For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. (56) He who partakes of My flesh and drinks My blood dwells in Me, and I in him. (57) As the living Father has sent Me, and I live through the Father, so he who partakes of Me, even he shall live by Me. (58) This is the Bread, which came down from Heaven, not as your fathers ate the manna, and died; he who partakes of this Bread shall live forever. (59) He said these things in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
The miracle of the manna was great but ultimately ineffective for (a) it did not cause those who ate it to live forever – they all died, (b) it did not cause them to believe in God – because they died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. So the miracle of Moses’ manna gave neither physical nor eternal life. By contrast Jesus gives eternal life now and will raise us up bodily on the last day.
In his commentary on John, Leon Morris argues strenuously from verb tenses and other data that this passage does not refer to Communion but to the Cross-. I would say that its primary meaning is the Cross, of which Communion is a reminder. We “eat and drink” of Christ when we believe in His atoning work on our behalf. That is the spiritual side of Communion, the external symbol being the bread and wine. Communion is not essential for salvation but faith in the atonement is, and Communion is that ceremony we normally use to express our faith in the atonement.
When Jesus says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves.” He does not mean that we have to go to a church building and receive communion from a priest or pastor to be saved. Salvation is by living internal faith not by an externally applied sacrament.
Jesus means that we are to “feast” on what He has done for us in the cross – and that may be in a daily quiet time, or a bible study, or at church or in a large variety of settings. However we tend to do that most often when we contemplate His sacrifice for us during communion.
So the saving act is the Cross – not the sacrament. The sacrament is simply a reminder of the Cross.
By using the graphic representation “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood” Jesus is emphasizing His actual physical, biological self. Flesh (sarx) is a sweaty, physical word (in contrast to soma / body). He uses it to say at least four different things:
Jesus explains the mechanism of His imparting life to humanity: “As the living Father has sent Me, and I live through the Father, so he who partakes of Me, even he shall live by Me.” The eternal life of the Father is the life that is in the Son, and by partaking of Christ we partake of that eternal life.
To use a very simple analogy - Jesus is like an ATM machine, connected to the Bank of Heaven, from which we can receive eternal life. The ATM machine can only dispense those things that are in the Bank of Heaven – eternal things. Jesus Christ is the point that we can connect to God’s eternal kingdom and all its benefits. The Father’s life dwells in the Son, and it is from Jesus that we can receive God’s eternal life. Colossians 2:9 MKJV For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.
John finishes this passage with a brief statement: “He said these things in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.” These were actual words, spoken to real people, who found them hard to understand. It was not a fictional Socratic dialogue made up to illustrate a point. So Jesus Christ is not just a symbol, a philosopher, or an ideal, He is a person with flesh and blood who taught in a synagogue in an actual place called Capernaum. This helped to refute Gnosticism and its unreal and disembodied view of Jesus.